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PRROOTS.com – Hispanic Genealogical Society » General » Introduction to Census Records

Introduction to Census Records

The name of your relative or ancestor, and the state he or she resided in, is enough to get you started searching Census records.

The first Federal Population Census was taken in 1790, and has been taken every ten years since. However, data from recent censuses are not available after 1930 because of a 72-year restriction on access to the Census. Most researchers find it most helpful to begin with the 1930 Census and work backwards to locate people in earlier generations.

The National Archives has the census schedules on microfilm available from 1790 to 1930. (Note: Most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a Department of Commerce fire, though partial records are available for some states.)

What can the Census tell me?

Census records can provide the building blocks of your research, allowing you to both confirm information, and to learn more.

From 1850 to 1930, details are provided for all individuals in each household, such as:

  • names of family members
  • their ages at a certain point in time
  • their state or country of birth
  • their parent’s birthplaces
  • year of immigration
  • street address
  • marriage status and years of marriage
  • occupation(s)
  • value of their home and personal belongings
  • the crops that they grew (in agricultural schedules), etc.
Tip: Begin with the most current census year available and work backwards. With the 72-year restriction on access to the Census, the most current year available is 1930.

Not all of this kind of information is available in every census. Before the 1850 Census, few of these details were recorded. From 1790-1840, only the head of household is listed and the number of household members in selected age groups.

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